Green Bay Packers: Are the Defensive Problems Fixable?
The Green Bay Packers' 8-0 start, and their 14-game win streak has the rest of the NFL wondering if the Packers can be taken down. While this question remains, the biggest weakness of the Packers is starting to be exposed more and more each week.
While the Packers' offense has looked unstoppable, their defense has made opposing offenses look quite similar to the Packers. The inability to get stops on the defensive side of the ball has hurt the Green Bay, but through eight games, it has yet to cost the team a game, and the problems are fixable.
Through eight games, the Packers are giving up 299.6 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks, leaving the Packers ranked 31st in the league in passing yards allowed. While they have been sliced and diced by opposing quarterbacks for tons of yards, they have been saved by their playmaking ability.
Interceptions have kept the Packers defense from costing the team the game. It leads the league with 16 interceptions, five coming from Charles Woodson. Without creating these timely turnovers, the '72 Miami Dolphins might have already popped their champagne.
While the interceptions have been the saving grace of the defense, one of the biggest issues has been the lack of a pass rush opposite Clay Matthews and upfront.
Opposite Matthews, Erik Walden has struggled to shed blocks during his time on the field and Frank Zombo has suffered a broken scapula, a knee sprain and now a hamstring injury. The three injuries have limited Zombo to playing limited time in only two of the eight games.
The health of Zombo will impact the effectiveness of the outside linebacker position. If he is able to stay healthy, which is a huge question mark at this point, there could be slight improvements there. Undrafted rookie Vic So'oto has yet to see the field on defense, but many hold up that he could help out opposite Matthews. This is far-fetched for a player that the coaching staff has seen only fit for special teams to this point.
While B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Jarius Wynn have proved they can get to the quarterback, they have failed to do so consistently. The Packers defensive line has accounted for only five of team's 19 sacks. Wynn has recorded three sacks, but none since Week 3 and Raji has two on the year.
Sack numbers are far from telling the only story regarding pressure, but by comparison, Packers defensive backs have 3.5 sacks. The defensive line has failed to get pressure, causing defensive coordinator Dom Capers to blitz more than he ever has.
Help could be on the way on the defensive line as Mike Neal is expected to return to practice Thursday. Neal entered the season with big expectations, but has failed to have an opportunity after suffering a training camp injury. How Neal responds to this week of practice will be huge for the Packers to determine the impact that Neal will have.
The other big issue for the Packers defense has been frequent communication breakdowns leading to big plays for the opposing team. Blown coverages and missed assignments have allowed defenders to slip open down the field.
Following a near collapse after pulling ahead 45-24 against the San Diego Chargers in Week 9 and surviving 45-38, Charles Woodson was asked about the performance on the defensive side of the ball and the communication problems. At his locker, Woodson said, "I'll always be happy about a win, but the way we went out there and played defense today was disappointing from a lot of different aspects. A lot of bad football."
This is unacceptable for a unit that features so many veteran players working within Capers' defense for three years. While there is a bit of youth in the the Packers secondary, it as if the unit has taken a step in the wrong direction from last year's top-five defense.
Communication issues are certainly fixable and should be expected to improve over the second half of the season. Capers is too good of a coach with too much talent on the defensive side to be hampered by a lack of communication.
The most important thing to remember when discussing the Packers defense is that it has been good enough. Yes, for Packers fans, it is unacceptable to settle for "good enough." This unit will improve and come together as the season progresses. The defense has been awful at times, but the time has managed to escape the first eight games with a perfect 8-0 record.
It is not quite time to hit the panic button, but this team needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball and it knows it.
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